Businesses Must Create Opportunities for Female Leaders Credit: Dreamstime.com

When it comes to breaking the glass ceiling, women cannot leave change to chance.  According to new research jointly conducted by The Forum of Executive Women and Deloitte LLP, a financial advisory and consulting firm, the promotion of women to leadership roles must be a combined effort with the employees putting themselves in a position to succeed and employers enacting company policies to aid their female employees in the process.

"One thing seems resoundingly clear— that the path to success for a woman leader is one that rarely just happens, but rather (it) is a confluence of deliberate, thoughtful acts on the part of both the woman and her employers," said Autumn Bayles, president of The Forum of Executive Women, and senior vice president of strategic operations at Tasty Baking Co.

The "Women on Boards" report found positive signs for gender equality in the workplace in recent years as the proportion of women in top executive positions rose 17 percent from 2005 to 2010 at Philadelphia's 100 largest companies. Women directors also increased by 4 percent over that same time as did the number of female top earners at those companies.

Despite the encouraging signs from 2005 to 2010, the news from the past year was not as inspiring.  The number of women in senior executive positions dropped to 10.1 from 11 percent in the past year. Also 66 of the 100 surveyed companies counted no women among their top earners, while only six companies had three or more female directors, a number down from eight companies in 2009.  Increasing these numbers will take a joint effort between female employees and employers, according to Bayles.

"I think our whole point when we wrote the report was to say that women and companies need to take charge of your career and think of a goal strategy to take you where you need to go," Bayles told BusinessNewsDaily. "Then you need to make sure you are executing against that plan.  Are there certain skills you need to acquire? Are there certain positions you should target? Are there certain networks you should be joining? The idea is that this is not going to happen by chance. Women need to sit down and say, 'What is it that I am trying to accomplish?'"

The road to greater equality is not a one-way street, and employers must also do their part to help female employees by providing them with the best opportunity for success. According to Bayles, this can be accomplished by putting policies in place to ensure an even playing field and listening to what female employees have to say.

"The first step (for organizations) is to say that they want women to be able to progress," Bayles said. "Setting that tone at the top of an organization says this is something that is important to provide the right framework for women to succeed.  Then (companies need to) take those steps. Is it making sure they get the right types of opportunities? Is there a consideration of the diversity of the pool to fill an open position? You need to listen to women and help them overcome the obstacles."

Those who do not follow these policies may in the end be hurting only themselves.

"There are a number of studies out there that show if you have diverse opinions out there you tend to get a better result," Bayles said. "Women tend to raise questions and have certain characteristics that are useful to a business. Also, from a talent standpoint women are half of the population and there is a lot of talent out there waiting to be tapped."